Making Pizza Takes a Lot More Dough

Pizza shop owners across the U.S. are facing rising flour and cheese costs that are making the snack an investment. Scott Simon speaks with Phil Geffner from his pizza shop, Escape from New York Pizza, in Portland, Ore.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

Pizza shop owners across the country are facing rising flour and cheese costs, and that's making this snack into an investment. Phil Geffner owns the Escape from New York pizzeria, in Portland, Oregon. Mr. Geffner, thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. PHIL GEFFNER (Escape from New York Pizzeria): Glad to be here.

SIMON: Help us understand the rising costs that you confront there in the pizza world.

Mr. GEFFNER: Well, in the last year, flour has tripled, and the cheese price, like, we use a really good quality whole milk mozzarella cheese; it usually goes up in the summer and down in the winter. But this year, it just kept going up and up and up. In one week alone, we had to pay $800 more for the cheese bill. So we try to keep the prices low for people because, you know, you want everybody to be able to eat pizza because, you know, you got to keep the comfort in the comfort food.

SIMON: Give us, for instance, how has the price of a slice been affected over the past year?

Mr. GEFFNER: Well, you know, even though our price have gone up so much, we just raised it last month for the first time, 10 percent. We've been in business now 25 years and it's the first time this January - well, I came up again. It's like I had to put money into the business to keep it working even though we were busy enough, just because the costs were going up so much.

You got to realize that the difference between a pizza and pasta, if you have, like, sauce, dough, and the cheese, you put that, like, on a plate of pasta or with spaghetti or something, that's like $8. With a pizza, it's two or three dollars, so we got to sell a lot to make that work. But we do and things work out fine for us over 25 years.

SIMON: Now, I wonder, though, with a price increase like that one you just described, if you don't have to worry about a psychological barrier, to some people, $2.75, that's a snack. But $3 sounds like it should be lunch.

Mr. GEFFNER: Yeah. There are certain barriers, but still, for the quality of food, you know, if it's a good quality pizza, you can't get a better deal than a slice of pizza that you don't want to make the ingredients worse or use lesser product, so, I mean, you want to keep it (unintelligible).

SIMON: Now, it isn't, but that's often the way, though, that people will cut down costs, right? They skimp on the ingredients.

Mr. GEFFNER: Yeah, people do that, but that's losing integrity, and that's the last thing that you want to do, you know, I mean, if you have a soul to your product, so you don't want to do that.

SIMON: Pizza has soul, doesn't it?

Mr. GEFFNER: Pizza has soul, and pizza - there's nothing like pizza. It brings people together. It's a beautiful thing, pizza, you can't beat it. And so this is pretty much unprecedented when things go up actually 25 percent in one week. There's no apologies for it or anything, it's just how things are going. When I was a child, like, pizza slices in New York used to be in neon because they would never change. Like, 15 cents for a slice of pizza would be in neon. That's how things used to be the same and how fast things are changing now, which is pretty incredible, really.

SIMON: Mr. Geffner, what a pleasure talking to you, Sir.

Mr. GEFFNER: Pleasure talking to you. I'd like to shout out (unintelligible) in kitchen making the dough. He's listening.

SIMON: Well, Phil Geffner, who is owner of the Escape from New York pizzeria, speaking to us from his kitchen in Portland, Oregon. Thank you so much.

Mr. GEFFNER: And thank you.

SIMON: This is NPR News.

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